For those of us who are paying attention, this is a scary time. But when Jon-Erik Kellso suggested with polite urgency that we might want to join him and the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet on Thursday, March 12 — it seems a lifetime ago — I stuffed a produce-section plastic bag in my jacket pocket (it took a few more days to find gloves) took a half-empty commuter train, got on an even more empty subway, and walked a few quiet blocks to this place, the home of restorative music and friends since last September: Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow Street, New York City.
We sensed that the huge dark doors were closing, although we didn’t know what would follow (we still are like people fumbling for the light switch in a strange room full of things to trip over). But music, artistic intelligence, soulful energy, and loving heat were all beautifully present that night. I hope that these video-recordings of these performances can light our way in the days ahead. And, for me, I needed to post music by people who are alive, medically as well as spiritually. So here are three inventive performances from that night. Subliminally, the songs chosen were all “good old good ones” that can be traced back to Louis, which is never a bad thing.
YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — perhaps the theme song for quarantined couples and families? — with the world’s best ending:
Honoring another savory part of Lower Manhattan, CHINATOWN:
And the oft-played ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, here all bright and shiny with love. Everyone in the band lights up the night sky, but please pay attention to Sean Cronin playing the blues in the best Pops-Foster-superhero-style. This venerable song is often played far too fast, but Jon-Erik kicked it off at a wonderfully groovy tempo, reminding me of Bix and his Gang, and the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1940-41:
If, in some unimaginable future, a brave doctor leans over me and says, “He shouldn’t have gone into the city on March 12, you know,” my lifeless form will resurrect just long enough to say, “You’ve got it wrong. It was completely worth it.”
Bless these four embodiments of healing joy, as well as Christine Santelli and Mike Zielenewski of Cafe Bohemia, too. And here are three other lovely performances from earlier in the evening: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, WILLIE THE WEEPER (he was a low-down chimney sweeper, if you didn’t know that), and the MEMPHIS BLUES.
This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also. I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator. The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining you. How can you help them and express gratitude? Simple. Buy their CDs from their websites. Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar. Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say. Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.
Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, and what you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.
May your happiness increase!